Daughters Of Chibok puts Benson on global stage
When Nigerian documentary filmmaker Joel Kachi Benson resolved to make the film, Daughters of Chibok, little did he know that the venture would put him on the international stage. Today, the documentary, which was produced in Virtual Reality (VR), has earned Benson the Lion Award for Best Story at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival.
Centered on the Chibok schoolgirls that were kidnapped by the Boko Haram insurgent group, the documentary focused on the painful but important story of the abducted girls and what they have had to go through.
During his acceptance speech for the award, Benson, who is already back in Nigeria, said he felt it is important to tell the story of the girls and the pain their parents have had to endure as a result of their absence.
He said it is wrong for everybody to forget about them and move on like nothing really ever happened.
“With this VR film, all I wanted to do was to take the world to the women of Chibok, who five years after their daughters had been kidnapped, are still living with the incredible pain of their absence. I felt it was wrong for us to forget or even doubt and move on,” he said.
While speaking with CNN, Benson said he had an out-of-the-world experience when he was announced as the winner and had to walk to the stage. He said that despite the way he felt walking up the stage, he just wanted to remind the world that the experience is still there and unresolved.
“When my name was announced as the winner and I walked up on stage, it was the most surreal thing ever! Almost like an out of body experience. But I knew this was an opportunity to remind the world that Chibok is still here and the story doesn’t have an ending yet. And so we must not forget,” he said.
On how he got nominated for the award, Benson recalled, “I just submitted my film to the Venice Festival, but I wasn’t expecting to get a response from them honestly; I had submitted my first VR film In Bakassi but didn’t get a response. So, I wasn’t really expecting anything,” he said.
Asked if he was discouraged by his first attempt, he said, “I wasn’t surprised because I kind of felt like, ‘this is Venice man, they are a big deal; you are trying to match yourself with the big boys with big budget movies.’ So, even to send this one, I had to convince myself and my guys had to really convince me to do it. But I ended up sending it,” he noted.
About two weeks after he sent in a nomination for Daughters of Chibok, the Venice team responded positively.
“It was amazing; the most amazing experience I had. For me, that was a big deal; we even talked about it in the media that we were going to Venice, so, people were looking forward to it.”
On the day the documentary premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the turnout was not so impressive.
“We didn’t have a sizeable crowd because we premiered the film in the evening; the seats were not even full. But it’s a ten-day festival, so, day by day, one person watches and tells another person and before you knew it, the whole place was filled with people, queuing up to watch Daughters of Chibok. On the last day of the Festival, they told us we were going to pick up an award,” he enthused.
On how he received news of the award for Daughters of Chibok, he said, “I broke down in tears because I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘how? Why me? Look at me, I’m just a guy with a camera; this is not a movie that is connected to any major organisations or major funding.’ I guess it was just a rush of emotions because, the seven to eight days I had spent with Venice, I had seen the scale of that festival. I’m just happy to be here and then now, they told us that we are winning an award for Best VR story.”
Recalling his experience in Chibok during production, Benson was filled with emotions as he walked up the stage to receive the award.
“I had to control myself,” he noted. “They told me about the award a day before, so, I spent that whole day crying; all the tears had finished in my eyes. I had to compose myself to represent my country well. But for me, it was like ‘finally, we’ve amplified the voices of this women,’ and that was a bid deal for me. From what I saw and from what they told me in Chibock, the world has moved on; other things have happened since then. But these people haven’t moved on; they don’t know how to move on. They have no reason to move on and so, I think it’s important that we constantly remember them and this award has just done that,” he said.
Winning the Lion Award for Best Story at the 2019 Venice Festival was indeed an indication that all the weeks Benson and his team spent in Chibok Village were not vain.
“No, it wasn’t a wasted effort at all. I know that physically, this award in itself does not really do much for them, but what the award will do or what the award is doing now is that it is drawing attention back to them; awareness. That’s what they need; people need to be more aware, people need to remember and in remembering, do something.”
Already, Benson has launched a charity campaign for the victims of Chibok Kidnap with the hope of raising funds to support them in growing their crops.
“Basically, we were targeting 112 mothers of the girls that are still missing and we want to help them because they are mostly farmers. So, what we want to do is to help them with fertilizers, pesticides, and ox-driven plows so that they can till their land and increase their harvest; it’s very poor now. When you add poverty to the pain of losing a child, I feel it’s just wrong on so many levels. I mean, this one that we are doing does not drastically change it, but this is a step in the right direction and it helps to remind them that they have not been forgotten.”
Before traveling to Venice, Benson and his team had already shared fertilizers to the women of Chibok from the little money they raised from within.
“They were so happy, so, on this campaign, I will run it until April next year, which is the sixth anniversary. Then, that will be in time to support all of them; whatever we have raised during this period, we would then do a big launch and then go out there and support the women for the next farming season,” he assured.
With a Diploma in Software Engineering and Certificate in filmmaking from the Central Film School, London, United Kingdom, Benson has gone for fellowship at the Legacy Media Institute, West Virginia, USA, as well as attended storytelling masterclass at the MUSE Training/StillMotion Portland, USA. He has also attended a masterclass in documentary at National Film & TV School, UK, as well as attended 360 Video Production Masterclass in Chicago, USA.
His first documentary, Cry for Mercy, was accepted into the BFM Film Festival in 2009, and following on that, he has produced many other documentaries that have been featured at various festivals and venues including Lights, Camera, Africa! Film Festival, iREP Documentary Film Festival, Sheffield Docfest, Cairo International Film Festival, and the British Film Institute.
In February 2018, Benson was introduced to the world of Virtual Reality. He was completely taken by the medium, and its potential for immersive storytelling, and by May 2018, he produced his first VR film, In Bakassi, a virtual experience of living in one of the largest IDP camps in Northeast Nigeria.
The film, which was the first of its kind out of Nigeria, was first presented to His Excellency, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the launch of the Northeast Innovation Hub in Yola. The film later screened at the Cairo International Film Festival. Since then, the film has screened at other prestigious festivals and fora, including Facebook’s NgHub, The Berlin Film Festival, Africa Tech Summit Kigali, and Hot Docs, which is the largest documentary film festival in North America. Following on the success of In Bakassi, Benson and his team produced Daughters of Chibok.
He currently lives and works in Nigeria where he manages JB Multimedia Studios/VR360 Stories.
“We produce documentaries for corporate organisation, NGOs… that’s what we do. We are a video production outfit; Virtual Reality is another medium of expression that we are using now. What we did is that we set up another outfit called VR 360 Stories; that’s where we create all our virtual reality content for two key reasons: for advocacy and commercial. I’m very big in advocacy; I’m very big on using films to do some good. If we know that you are doing something good and we know that film will amplify what you are doing, then we can do a documentary for you at no cost.”